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Artisan traders see food markets as key to future business growth

DOZENS of artisan food traders have looked to outdoor markets for essential income to survive the coronavirus pandemic over more than a year. While most of the markets were closed during the first lockdown and the strict stay at home rules, many have remained open during the shutdown from Boxing Day.

Two of the biggest, however, St George’s indoor market in Belfast and those run by Causeway Coast and Glens, especially the monthly event at Coleraine, have remained closed over the past four months. St George’s, which is run by Belfast City Council, has been shuttered since April last year – apart from a short period before Christmas. Both are badly missed by traders.

Wayne Adair, for example, a director and founder of Papas Craft Minerals in Bangor, is urging the council to reopen St George’s as soon as practicable.

“We have been doing good business at St George’s over the years since it was renovated. The market was hugely important to the growth of our business and we miss it. While we’ve been doing well at smaller events such as the monthly Market Fresh in Bangor we are really keen to see the three-day market at St George’s back in business,” he says.

Another keen to see both Belfast and Coleraine running again is Tom and Ollie, a marketer of Mediterranean mezze foods and cheese from Ireland and beyond. Based at Poleglass, Tom and Ollie has been an anchor at St George’s with the biggest single stand.

“Our business needs St George’s and we really do want to be back selling our vast products there,” says Tom and Ollie director Cormac Green.

Tom and Ollie is now among the most successful of local market traders and has travelled as far as Dublin and other parts of Ireland. The ambitious business is also to be found at Market Fresh in Bangor, events in Saintfield, Downpatrick, Antrim and Comber.

Davide Tani of Velocheese Cheese in Belfast is another who sees markets as an essential part of his business. Originally from Sicily, Davide markets cheese in collaboration with Indie Fude, the small retail operation with delis in Belfast and Comber.

“Markets are essential because they enable me to showcase a wide range of cheeses and encourage people here to sample them,” he says. “Young Buck, for example, remains a firm favourite with shoppers here. I cover markets at The Inns in Belfast, Comber, Antrim and Bangor,” he adds.

Another native Italian who has created a successful food business here on the back of many markets is Luca Montorio of Peppup Sauces in Newtownards. “While I still take part in a number of markets because of the opportunity to talk directly with shoppers, my sauces are now selling in retailers here and the Republic,” he explains.

“Markets helped me build success in the early days. They are a great way to get feedback from shoppers about products,” he adds.

Other food markets especially in Ards, Omagh and Dungannon have flourished during the lockdowns and encouraged many artisan producers.

Louis Ludik of Hellbent is another using markets to encourage shoppers to taste his South African flavoured pork dishes and coiled beef sausages. “We specialise in boerewors sausages which many people here know little about and so we need to reach out to them,” he says.

“While we are listed in Eurospar and Sainsbury’s we still need to enable people to taste the products and to tell them about how they are made and what the ingredients are. The boerewors are made from 100 percent Northern Irish beef,” he explains. Hellbent is now an integral part of the developing Ards Food Hub that also includes Krazi Baker and Peninsula Kelp.

Several markets here are also members of NABMA, the national body that represents markets throughout the UK. The latest NABMA survey suggests that the industry is heading towards some £200 million in lost income for operators.
Throughout the last 12 months market operators have had little or no financial support from government. This despite being regarded as a key influence for the future revival of the high street and a long-standing part of retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. With the majority of markets being run by local authorities some operators are reporting losses of in excess of £1 million. The latest survey highlighted the continuing worries around the future of many markets. Concerns are being voiced as to how many non-essential traders will return after many months of limited, or no trading opportunities.

NABMA chief executive David Preston says: “The lack of government financial support to recognise the importance of markets within local communities during the pandemic has been frustrating.

“Sadly, as a result, the future of some markets may continue to be in doubt.

“Markets have provided amazing service to their local communities during the last 12 months and now have a vital role to play in helping the recovery of local high streets,” he adds.

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